For the fourth year in a row, and fifth time in six years, the game between Florida State and North Carolina State was a hard-fought one, with the Wolfpack leading all game before pulling away with a little under ten minutes. With Florida State starting a freshman quarterback, its defense was going to have to step up and limit scoring opportunities to give it an easier shot at winning.
That didn’t exactly happen.
Defensively, we saw some good and bad, with a bit more of the latter after such an impressive showing out against Alabama. Florida State’s offense didn’t actually put the defense in that terrible of a position (outside of the whole, you know, not consistently scoring points thing), with the Seminoles’ outgaining the Wolfpack. The disparity in ball possession (33:22 to 26:38 in NC State’s favor) kept FSU on the field more often, and it showed as NC State scored on nearly half of its possessions.
The biggest mistakes for Florida State on defense came from mental lapses, whether it was a facemask when NC State was pinned deep on its own two-yard line in the middle of the second quarter, biting on the wrong receiver and allowing huge passes (one of which was a 71-yard touchdown) or allowing Jaylen Samuels to score relatively untouched on a shovel pass that ended up being the game clincher.
Derwin James was actually culpable on that long touchdown as well, getting beat one-on-one in the open field. He had an interception invalidated by a questionable pass interference call committed by Tavarus McFadden but, in a reflection on how the officiating went Saturday, attributed to James.
Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, though it should be noted that the junior is one of the ACC’s better quarterbacks. In total, FSU let up 255 yards through the air, and with NC State averaging 334.7, that’s pretty par for the course.
The problem is, however, Florida State should be aiming for more than par for course, especially with the slate it has coming up. James Blackman was effective after getting comfortable on Saturday, but the Seminoles won’t always be afforded the luxury of playing a team like NC State at home. The lack of a pass rush, combined with blown assignments in coverage, allowed Finley to manage the game exactly as he liked. Give the same opportunities to teams like Clemson and Louisville, and things could get ugly fast.
Florida State’s run defense held relatively strong for most of the game, only allowing three runs of 10 yards or more, but still gave up 110 yards on the ground and allowed Nyheim Hines to nearly hit 100 of those yards by himself.
The worst of it came with the game on the line, when Florida State allowed a 15-yard run on third-and-9 with 1:30 left. A stop gives FSU another chance to score, but with no timeouts, it was a game clincher.
When it’s all said and done Florida State’s defense had some impressive moments Saturday and remain one of the more talented units in the country, but some of the same issues that plagued them last season were on full display and the result was a 27-21 loss.
If the Seminoles had held NC State to even seven less points, I’d be inclined to ascribe more blame to the offense and refs, but the manner in which FSU allowed the 27 points to be scored is concerning. That 27 is NC State’s season low and still was more than Florida State should’ve allowed is a reflection of both the potential for the unit and it not living up to it.